Last year, while attending the Consumer Electronics Show, I wrote a piece on how technology might end or substantially reduce the need for litigators. The idea was not that technology would do the job of lawyers-no robo lawyers please, although after hearing about IBM’s Project Debater, I’m not so sure-but that technology would end or reduce the number of disputes on which lawyers feed.
This year, I remain even more convinced that technology can reduce the number and the nature of disputes that exist because of its ability to record and/or flawlessly trace events. I am also starting to believe that the skill set future successful lawyers will need to have will be more technical in nature than ever before.
A couple of examples of what I mean. I attended a press announcement hosted by a company called Nextbase. Nextbase makes dashcams that can be placed in your car. Nextbase released Series 1 of these cams a year or so ago and this week announced Series 2 which is smaller, records in higher resolution and is able to automatically upload video to say your insurance company if and when an incident occurs. The camera is front facing and records at about 140 degrees. It also has a rear facing camera that can be added on. The cameras can detect side motion-such as someone bumnpong your car in a parking lot, has an emergency notification system if an incident occurs and you don’t respond to a phone call immediately, and have both voice recognition and audio components. The camera attaches easily and unobtrusivly to the dash and is slightly smaller than a GoPro. The kicker: it will cost between $69 to $199 depend on what model you buy. Nextbase is negotiating with U. S carriers for either a discount on a premium (see my related article
on the privacy implications of that subject) or a discount on the device.
What’s This Have To Do With Lawyers?
What’s this have to do with lawyers? Vehicle crashes result in a huge amount of litigation and lawyer related work from trucking related injury accidents to fender benders to inter-insurance disputes to even commercial claims. But where everything is captured on video, what’s left to factually determine? Whether the video was doctored? Yes that’s possible but how many disputes will this really generate?
Another example: this morning I attended a keynote where Charles Redfield, Executive Vice President of Walmart with food related responsiblities spoke. Redfield says WalMart now requires all its food suppliers to record all transactions regarding food and food supply on a WalMart blockchain.
The result is real time traceability: where it used to take WalMart some 7 days to try to trace the flow of food from a supplier or farm to the shelf it now takes only 2.2 seconds to do so flawlessly.
So? Over my career, I was involved in several food safety related cases and I can tell you the amount of lawyer and expert time spent in trying to determine where contaminated food came from and a then convincing a jury who was right with the trace was immense and was practically the whole case. Now there can be no question.
Technology capable of resolving disputes is all around us.
Think technology is only eliminated disputes in car wrecks and food safety? Think again. Technology capable of resolving disputes is all around us. Cell phone cameras are ubquitious and people aren’t afraid to capture and post the videos they take. Think about security cameras and how both the number and resolution of them is relentlessly increasing. And what about all the data being captured every day by the IoT devices-what a story this data could tell. How many disputes are fueled by a breach of actual and anticipated trust that the blockchain can eliminate.
So litigation and lawyering as we know it is changing. Yes, there will be other disputes that can arise to take the place of tradional ones. But these will be more based on the adequacy and reliability of the technology. Whether the data has been somehow skewed. Whether the analytics and algorhythems applied to the tech are sound. And technology and data will require lawyers to marshall, evaluate and present facts and data in new and more robust ways.
We need to start where the puck is going.
Does this sound like perhaps lawyers will need different and perhaps more technical skills? Probably. But one things for sure: to paraphrase Wayne Gretesky, we need to start skating where the puck is going, not where its been. The glory days of secrets and hidden facts and information that fuel disputes are going, going, gone.